Last year I was introduced to something very new: quantum mechanics. I would say right now, that it is actually pretty fun (and relatively *easy*) to understand. But when I first began to hear and read about it, I thought it was the most ridiculous, crazy and overwhelming concept I would have to piece together for an exam. After about a week long meltdown and spastic eye twitching, I finally was able to crack down on this challenging subject. Here is what I learned about learning during that time:
First, admit that I don’t understand a concept. Admit it to myself and to other people who will hold me accountable to learning it, one way or another.
Next, recognize whether it is something I already have a reference point for, realizing that information is rarely, ‘new.’ I have been consuming and ‘cataloguing’ information of the world around me since the day I was born. The wonderful adventure of learning is found in exploring new concepts and connecting them to what I already know. I am forever [if I continue as a life long learner] creating these links and new growths in my mind. I have even heard accounts that there is school, in heaven! Imagine school and learning perfected by the holiness and love of Christ! What a blast! Next, construct questions around the areas of doubt. My areas of doubt could be because:
- I was only taught a partial-truth in a 100-level course.
- Or, what I believe is hear-say.
- Or I simply don’t know…but we’ll skip this point as it’s too broad to talk about right now.
Creatively consider the many people [outside my school building] in my life who may reliably understand this issue. Ask them for time or for simple nuggets of information. Sometimes the best answers come when I simply ask a person what they most enjoyed learning about the subject. Watching as their eyes begin to twinkle and a smile tugs at the corners of their lips. That is what I want when I learn about something. I want to come alive in the information! I want my innocent joy and curiosity to be evident. Hearing these types of responses from others often fuels my passion for learning a particular subject…especially a subject I don’t find I am naturally interested in.
When it comes to my tutors or my professors, though: I tend to just dive straight in. Explain what I formerly believed and that it is not lining up with what I had previously been taught or understood. By explaining where I am coming from, the instructor or tutor has the opportunity to recognize what I may be missing. But, when I know specifically where I am missing information, then it is fun to just ask it…or google it!
As an introvert, I personally choose to ask my questions in a private, office-setting, or with a tutor, instead of in class. Even though teachers encourage us to ask questions in class, I have noticed they may often feel ‘on the spot’ and not answer kindly or appropriately or helpfully. [Or I am just VERY sensitive.] So I ask in private or in a small group setting when there is more time to really get the heart of the misunderstanding and to build up the new structure-of-knowledge that I am after.
Occasionally, a teacher will brush me off in a one-on-one meeting. They may be bored with my questions or I perhaps I am asking lame ones…but then again, it is MY learning. So, I have learned to remain persistent. I put my foot down and don’t leave their door until I have an ‘answer-nugget’ that I can take and research and explore. It helps to share stories or experiences that come to mind during the discussion. This helps the professor see that I am a real person, with real questions. They tend to calm down and slow down and treat me more humanely when I begin to share with them a bit about myself and my perspective….not sure why….just what I’ve noticed.
Then, it’s time for self-discipline. I read through notes and the chapter at least twice. Brush through it once and write down [or re-write] the main ideas. Then I go back through and read it, making notes beneath my headers from the first brush-through. If I am feeling super organized and cool, then I use a different color for each read-through. Start with a black pen. Then write the secondary notes in pencil.
The third time, I really read it. Thoughtfully and intimately. Read it and write many small detailed notes that matter to ME! These notes are likely not even relevant to the coming exam, but they are notes that spark my interest and bring enjoyment to my learning process. These are notes that likely connect to other things that I already know. They may be notes that connect to seemingly unrelated topics, yet, everything connects to everything, so I try to be daring. What would you do if you were not afraid? I think you and I both would jot down our ideas and observations and connections without fear of wasting time and without fear of anyone seeing it and thinking we are crazy or dumb. Just keep exploring the issue at hand. …Oh! And I write these notes with my favorite blue pen!Finally, I have learned to savor the moments of victory and success, when I receive my [fabulous] test results back. Or when I am able to correctly [bravely!] and confidently answer a question my teacher asks in class. And I learned: that when I learn something well during one class, that information tends to leak into other classes and course material, as well. Everything connects to everything.